Still no plan to move dementia patients out of psychiatric ward, says Liberal MLA

·3 min read
Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly, left, had several questions for Health Minister Ernie Hudson, right, in the legislature Friday about keeping dementia patients in the QEH's psychiatric unit as they wait for nursing home beds. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I.  - image credit)
Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly, left, had several questions for Health Minister Ernie Hudson, right, in the legislature Friday about keeping dementia patients in the QEH's psychiatric unit as they wait for nursing home beds. (Legislative Assembly of P.E.I. - image credit)

One year after the P.E.I. government emptied out the psychiatric wing of the province's main referral hospital to make way for COVID-19 patients, Liberal MLA Gord McNeilly says there is no plan to turn the entire unit back over to the purpose for which it was designed.

P.E.I. has so far had no hospitalizations as a result of COVID-19. Instead of COVID patients, Unit 9 at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital became home to dementia patients who had been in acute care awaiting placement into long-term care facilities.

This week, P.E.I. Health Minister Ernie Hudson said seven of the unit's 20 beds remain occupied by dementia patients, a further seven are available for psychiatric use, and the remainder are unavailable because of a staffing shortage.

The minister said the number of beds available for psychiatric patients will soon increase to 12.

On Friday, McNeilly expressed concerns for the dementia patients still living in Unit 9, which he said were brought to him by their families.

"Patients with dementia, you try to make it a home situation, you try to provide extra care," McNeilly told reporters, "to make sure they have the most comfortable experience they possibly can.

"And right now that unit … it's not set up to do that and they're very concerned about their loved ones and it's causing stress on the entire family."

'Fact of life'

During question period, McNeilly said families have told him they've been advised "the only way these patients are expected to get out of the Unit 9 facility is if someone passes away in a long-term care facility, which is not a viable solution."

After question period, Hudson told reporters that McNeilly had a "valid point."

"It's a fact of life, a sad one that before a bed becomes available in a long-term care facility it means that, for the most part, somebody's loved one passes," Hudson said.

The dementia patients in Unit 9 have specific, heightened requirements around their care and security.

McNeilly pushed the minister to commit to creating more long-term care spaces, particularly spaces for dementia patients.

Beds are easy, staffing is not

But the health minister said there are no staff to make new beds operational, and said some of the new beds promised by the last Liberal government still haven't opened up because of staffing shortages.

Unit 9 at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital is the psychiatric unit where right now seven beds are occupied by dementia patients, seven are available for psychiatric patients and six are empty due to lack of staff.
Unit 9 at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital is the psychiatric unit where right now seven beds are occupied by dementia patients, seven are available for psychiatric patients and six are empty due to lack of staff. (CBC News)

"We could say that we're going to have another 200 long-term care beds within the next 18 months, but if we're not able to staff that, what's the point of doing it?" Hudson said to reporters.

Hudson pointed to initiatives by the PCs to increase the capacity for nurse training on P.E.I., and increases in funding for recruitment and retention of nurses.

He said the province needs a comprehensive, multi-year plan for long-term care that considers not just the number of spaces required, but where the staff will come from to operate them.

A review of long-term care was announced by previous health minister James Aylward, but Hudson offered no timeline as to when such a review might be completed.

McNeilly said the province will need an additional 300 long-term care beds over the next four to five years "just to maintain where we're going right now," and that he doesn't feel government is addressing that need.

"This is one of the key components of the next few years for our province. It's how we take care and maintain the people that have worked for this province that are most vulnerable at a time when they need it the most."

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